The year is 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall. Martha (Marthe Keller) has been living in solitude for 40 years, in a lonely, beautiful house somewhere on the coast of Ibiza.
One day she meets her new neighbour, 25-year-old Jo (Max Riemelt), an aspiring DJ and music producer who hopes to make his fortune in the island’s burgeoning electronic music scene. A booking at Amnesia, the island’s hippest club, would be a major step in the right direction. The two get along from the start and spend more and more time together, to the amusement of Jo’s buddy Rudolfo; one might suspect an even deeper affection, but Martha keeps it platonic. Jo shows her how to create music, she tells him about episodes from her past and present. But there are well-hidden secrets that surface only reluctantly.
Veteran director Barbet Schroeder (Barfly, Kiss of Death) likes to linger on Ibiza’s idyllic nature, the sea and the white stone houses, as a contrast to slowly emerging traumas from the past. In the end, the truth slips out when Martha reveals that the two of them actually wouldn’t have to speak English in order to understand each other. She is German and, although not a Jew herself, abandoned the country, language and all things reminiscent of that past, including an old cello, when she left Nazi Germany before WWII, shocked and repulsed, never to return.
This forced suspense reaches its climax, if you will, when Jo’s mother and grandfather (Bruno Ganz) visit the island and come by for an afternoon snack. Their discussion leads the old man to tell his own painful war-time story, addressing exactly the questions relevant for Martha’s decision: collective guilt, forgiveness and the line between what denazification judges would divide into “followers” and “exonerated persons”. Jo’s mother, in turn, emphasises how important it was that people stayed and faced realities, calling Marthe’s behaviour cowardice.
The clash of these positions is not without interest, though it is nothing new. What is, however, a novelty in Schroeder’s Amnesia is the non-organic staging of this confrontation: as far-fetched as the constructed “love story” between its stiff leads Keller and Riemelt. To recapitulate, imagine your German granny dancing to the cool electronic beats of a handsome young German DJ who falls in love with her in a paradisical white finca on Ibiza, while she pretends to understand only English. Hard to imagine? Exactly.
Amnesia does not yet have a UK release date.
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Watch the trailer for Amnesia here: